Thursday, August 19, 2010

Michelle’s Birthday Celebration featuring The United Sons of Toil, Dick the Bruiser, The Runners Up and The Motorz, with special appearances by Hug Life and Dishwasher Pete; August 19, 2010; High Noon Saloon

I’ll admit it, I’m jealous because this is something I’ve always wanted to do- have all my favorite bands play my birthday party. Problem is in my case that would involve many plane tickets or well-timed tours. Luckily Michelle’s absolute favorite band lives right here in town. The Toil and the other bands on this party of the century bill didn’t hesitate to commit to a show for one of Madison’s biggest live music enthusiasts. Perhaps the biggest coup of the night was getting the Runners Up back together after an 18 month hiatus. With the Low Czars taking the break, bassist, and father of two, James Leaver had the time to devote to re-learning all the RU songs for this show.

I’d forgotten how much I love this band. The Hemlines, which consists of lead singer Erika Zar and drummer Alex Fulton, had continued on after the Runners Up last show in January of 2009. They play all the same songs, but I never liked it as much. Truth is, I missed the boys- Bob Koch’s strangely high voice and vintage guitars and Leaver’s demands for more Tito’s and his turn on lead vocals, the Elvis Costello-ish “He’s a ‘Holic.” In addition to all the favorites like “James Brown with Two Heads” and “Spelling Bee,” they learned a cover for the occasion, the GoGo’s “We Got the Beat.” Totally unexpected, totally awesome. Unfortunately I missed half the Motorz opening set, since I elected to shower after my sand volleyball game. I hadn’t seen them since earlier this year, a mostly awesome show at the Crystal, but tonight, for once, they seemed happier to play Motorz’ songs than the covers they tend to favor. Usually lead singer/guitarist Kyle Motor isn’t this happy fronting a band, he seems to prefer a non-lead role like in the August Teens or God Damns. Tonight, though, he was all smiles as they tore through one Motorz classic after another. Yay.

In between sets we were entertained by Pete Kaesburg and Luke Bassuener. The latter as his secret alter ego Hug Life, the former inexplicably under the moniker Dishwasher Pete. Between the first two bands, Dishwasher played covers of songs by bands he knows Michelle likes, Husker Du, the Drive By Truckers’ Mike Cooley (“Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”) and Neil Young. Pete’s cover band Shakey plays spot-on covers from Young’s catalog, usually focusing on a certain record for each show, but “Powderfinger” has been a part of every one. During the second and third breaks Luke did his thing. Instead of the usual gangsta’ themed raps, his Hug Life project, as the name implies, is all about hugs, um, and tickling. It is so funny because it is so good.

Dick the Bruiser, another band who doesn’t play out much anymore, stole the show with their drums-bass-Theremin booty-shaking music. Tony Sellers is a vicious drummer, crouching low over the drum kit and pounding away with speed and ferocity, while bassist Kevin Wade barks rapid fire, nonsense lyrics and occasionally steps over to the Theremin, subtly inducing its trademark hum with the neck of his bass. It’s powerful, sexy stuff, not to mention strangely addictive. I thought the recent “Death Leppards” which rhymes Wonder bread with Motorhead was pretty brilliant, but it pales next to “Kissy Fit” which name checks Kajagoogoo, that’s right.

In fact, the only band on this bill that does actually get out and play on a regular basis is the United Sons of Toil, and it was obvious from their fine-tuned, intense performance. Lead singer Russell Hall is a tightly wound ball of socialist manifesto and righteous indignation. Even though I can’t understand most of what he screams, he screams it with conviction. I was happy to hear my favorite song which we recently determined to be “Repealing the Rumford Fair Housing Act.” I like it because I can understand some of the words and for its sludgy, oddly catchy melody. Not many folks were left by the end of the night, it had been a long one after all, but most of those that were stood right up front.

Well done Michelle. Makes me wonder how hard it would be to get the Wrens, Chris Mills, Ha Ha Tonka and Theodore on the same bill.

The Motorz

Dishwasher Pete

The Runners Up

Hug Life

Dick the Bruiser

The United Sons of Toil

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